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News website owner and editor fined in defamation suit

(RSF/IFEX) - An Abu Dhabi court is about to hear the appeal of Inas Al Bourini, the owner of the Hetta.com news website, and his editor, Ahmed Mohamed bin Gharib, against a fine of 20,000 dirhams (3,700 euros) that a lower court imposed on 7 September 2009 in a defamation suit by the state-controlled Abu Dhabi Media Company. The first hearing is scheduled for 12 October.

"Inas Al Bourini and Ahmed Mohamed bin Gharib were the victims of false allegations because they wrote about corruption," Reporters Without Borders said. "We urge the appeal judge to reconsider the lower court's verdict and to allow the accused to defend their case properly."

The Abu Dhabi Media Company filed its complaint on 2 June over an article posted on the website on 4 May about Abu Dhabi TV, a station it owns. Headlined "Abu Dhabi TV: a UAE television by name only" and written by Al Bourini, the article was "defamatory, insulting and humiliating", the complaint alleged.

The article claimed there was "administrative corruption" and "embezzlement" within the company. It also criticised some of the station's programmes, nowadays mainly of an entertainment nature, and said its official positions were dictated by "foreign interests."

Many commentators referred to the article after it was published, adding information that tended to confirm the allegations. The lower court convicted the two journalists under articles 1.3/b and 372 of the criminal code, articles 79 and 86 of Publications Law and article 16 of the Cyber-Crime Law.

Meanwhile, many websites are blocked in the United Arab Emirates, especially those referring to human rights, prison conditions, the royal family and free speech. See the list: http://www.emarati.katib.org/node/52
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